Michael Moore is more of a showman than a journalistic filmmaker. It's safe to say that people don't watch his documentaries to see a fair and balanced presentation of facts. They flock to theaters to see him pour his playful personality into serious social issues and perform dramatic "stunts," like wrapping crime scene tape around Wall Street.
Moore's major stunt in his new film involves taking Americans — especially those in power — on a guilt trip across the globe, illustrating how inferior the U.S. is in comparison to many other countries. Where to Invade Next is often eye-opening and infuriating, but it doesn't have the sharp "edge" of Moore's earlier work.
The film follows Moore as he "invades" a slew of countries, eagerly gathering ideas that he believes America should adopt. From the free education in Finland to the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal, his findings are quite appealing. And the film will frequently make you squirm in your seat out of frustration that our country doesn't support some of these ideas.
All of Moore's films are about what's wrong with America. This one is refreshing in the sense that it optimistically searches for solutions. And it's willing to look far and wide for them. In a country that stubbornly continues to deem itself "the best," it's inspiring to watch someone set off on a quest to see if the grass is greener on the other side.
Where to Invade Next is enlightening and engaging, but it lacks the thrillingly "cinematic" moments of Moore's other films. Why doesn't he personally confront any American politicians about other countries' ideas the way he attacked former NRA president Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine? While the lack of confrontation is part of the film's appeal, I found myself growing tired of Moore's gleeful globetrotting and getting hungry for edgier, more "dangerous" moments.
Maybe Moore is getting soft. That's apparent in the focus of the doc, which goes against what we're used to seeing from him. Instead of following Moore as he busts through the doors of big companies and demands to grill fat cat CEOs, the film shows him seeking out people with peaceful ideas. One of the most touching moments finds Moore on the assembly line floor of the Ducati factory in Italy, flabbergasted by the friendly treatment of employees. It's a stark contrast to the scenes of him at the General Motors headquarters in his first film Roger & Me.
Where to Invade Next comes to the surprisingly hopeful conclusion that the American Dream isn't dead — it's alive outside of America. Those hoping for a hard-edged, classic Moore documentary may be a bit disappointed by this one. He doesn't sink his teeth deeply into the subject matter like he usually does. This is a breezier, more lighthearted effort. But, after years of an angry, sharp-tongued Moore, maybe a softer version of the filmmaker is what we need.